Politico labor reporter Mike Elk has been on a roller coaster with his workplace since the day he got there in September.
Coworkers wondered about his hire. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? He was ecstatic about a job where he was getting a steady paycheck without the threat of funding runnning out as he’d experienced at In These Times. He promised Politico he wouldn’t try to organize a union.
But it was a promise he couldn’t, wouldn’t keep.
With a variety of publications organizing unions in their newsrooms — Gawker, Guardian, Vice to name a few — Elk has been itching to organize Politico‘s newsroom ever since he formally announced his intention to do so in December, which is around the time when Politico told him that he should work from home.
Elk eventually released a statement saying that Politico was complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines as they related to his PTSD.
Still, some 200 Politico coworkers are feeling the pressure of his desire to unionize mounting, with mass emails that some would rather not receive and one describing the ordeal as “spamming” and an “abuse of a staff wide listserv.”
Elk really has no choice but to communicate by email.
Since January, he has been forbidden from working in the newsroom on account of his PTSD issues, which he has acknowledged get triggered in the workplace setting.
This week Elk is out with a lengthy story about his father and his struggle with PTSD in, not his own publication, Politico, but rather, HuffPost, an outlet that once fired him.
The headline reads: “How the Labor Movement Got Me Through PTSD.”
Weirder still, he announces news about his father, but cites Politico.
“I have some very exciting labor news to report: Sources within UE confirm to POLITICO that my father Gene Elk, who started off his career in UE as a worker at a machine shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is likely to be elected as the next Director of Organization of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, a union in which three generations of my family have worked,” he wrote. “Sources confirm that Elk intends to run on a platform of ‘Organizing the Unorganized.'”
Sources? Seems plausible that his father told him something.
Elk tells a deeply personal story about how growing up in the labor movement has helped his PTSD, which resulted from a source committing suicide some years back.
“I have had rough times these past few years in my struggle with PTSD and my father’s stories of how UE members have held up under tough, almost impossible odds has been a guiding light out that has helped me see my way of the emotional chaos of PTSD,” he wrote.
His great uncle Herb Nichol plays an integral role in his healing. Herb was a member of the Communist Party and volunteered for the military during World War II. After the war, he became a union organizer, which is where he met his wife, who would become great aunt Lucy, a “pioneering female labor organizer.” (Somehow we assumed Lucy was female.)
Herb eventually landed on a black list and testified before Congress in 1957 about un-American activities. Herb, then a math teacher at an all boys school, was fired.
Elk reasoned, “I don’t think I would have known how to survive PTSD if I didn’t know the story of how my family survived the blacklist.”
Emotions tend to run high with Elk.
“These last few years, I have gotten so much help in my struggle with PTSD from so many once-strangers that I cry when I think about it,” he wrote. “It’s really proven to me that when you got a friend in labor, you got a friend everywhere. When you are in the labor movement, no matter how scary this world can get, you never walk alone.
“There is always someone… who says ‘don’t worry buddy, we are gonna team up and do something about this. Don’t worry buddy, we’re in this together.’ PTSD is a daily struggle for me, but every day when you are in the labor movement is a struggle. The most beautiful things in life are always a struggle to create.”
In 2011, HuffPost canned Elk, then a blogger, for slipping his press credentials to a construction union leader and demonstrator who was protesting a Mortgage Bankers Association event held at Washington’s JW Marriott.
Elk was an unpaid blogger. Still, HuffPost fired him.
In 2013, in an emotional outpouring in HuffPost that could easily be categorized as a long read, he presented a complex psychological analysis of why he did what he did. He also apologized his ass off.
And this week they’ve published a piece about his years-long plight with PTSD.
How come his story is not in Politico?
“We gotta organize Huff Post too,” he wrote The Mirror.
And when asked if he’s back in the Politico newsroom, he replied, “I dunno what’s happening. Guild is handling the ada stuff.”
When pressed for specifics, Elk went silent.
“It’s complicated – guild is handling it all – call them,” he said.
Regardless, the details could turn up soon….in HuffPost.